"Thanks! Thanks a lot! I appreciate it!" We throw those words around so often they have lost impact, but it wouldn't be surprising to find that most cancer patients and their families understand the meaning of giving thanks at a deeper, more personal level. Imagine hearing the words, "You're done. The treatment worked. You're cancer free!" Not only is there relief, but a profound sense of gratitude.

Thanksgiving DinnerIt has been said that we need to experience the bad times in order to appreciate the good ones. My own experience with cancer has found the adage to be true.

Two months before Thanksgiving last year, my treatment was completed. Recovery from head and neck cancer therapy can take many months, so I was still experiencing issues such as difficult swallowing, pain when speaking and fatigue. For Thanksgiving dinner, we were invited to the home of my sister and her husband. Once there, they lovingly tucked me into the guest room bed and encouraged me to nap until the meal was ready.

When I awoke, the table looked just like the Norman Rockwell painting. The smells were homey and familiar, and everyone knew the meal would be delicious. After an hour of dish-passing, laughs and good conversation, with a great deal of effort, I had eaten a grand total of one tablespoon of sweet potatoes and some mashed green beans.

This Thanksgiving we will be hosting our family. I've done it many times before, but this year I am filled with gratitude for the simple joy of having family together, being able to talk effortlessly and eat nearly anything.

No one battles cancer alone. God has placed many people into our lives to help in times just such as these. Family, church members, coworkers and friends may offer meals, rides and other encouragement.

There are oncologists who stay informed so they can develop personalized treatment based on the most successful protocols; nurse practitioners who answer endless questions without making them seem foolish and offer remedies for every possible side effect; radiation techs who keep patients calm as they are strapped into the dreaded mask; and chemotherapy nurses who work around tricky veins and persnickety ports all while keeping a cheerful attitude.

In addition, there are those who don't often receive thanks from patients. Coming to mind are the dosimetrist who stayed awake during algebra class in order to be able to develop the algorithms for a patient's radiation treatment; the dietician who encourages healthy eating and gives out coupons for protein drinks; the acupuncturist who works diligently to alleviate pain; the speech and swallowing therapist who listens to concerns and shares tricks to avoid choking; and the receptionist who hears the strain in a patient's voice and knows just who can take the call. I am grateful to them all.

To my family, church, friends, coworkers, and my cancer team, a quote from Philippians 1:3 says it best, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you."

Happy Thanksgiving!


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What are you thankful for — your family, your friends, your care team? Or is it simple pleasures, the unsung heroes or something else? Share your comments below.

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Beth Dowhen
About the Author

Since she was a young girl growing up in Wauwatosa, Beth Dowhen has loved teaching. Eventually Beth received a phone call from the principal of Wisconsin Lutheran High School asking if she would consider teaching there. After 19 years, Beth reluctantly left the school and students she loved because she had developed an undiagnosed medical condition that left her exhausted after a day in the classroom. For two years, Beth and her doctors tried to solve the mystery. Eventually, Beth was diagnosed with Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma at the base of her tongue. No one suspected oral cancer since Beth was a nonsmoker, nondrinker, and HPV negative. Beth has received radiation and chemotherapy and some complementary acupuncture therapy, and now her scans show no evidence of cancer. She's returned to teaching, this time as a volunteer parenting coach at a counseling center.

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